Opioids are involved in more overdose deaths than any other type of drug, and carry an extremely high risk of abuse and dependence. Of the 70,630 drug overdose deaths that occurred in 2019, an estimated 70% involved opioids, reports the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Yet, opioids remain widely used and prescribed, and continue to cause a large number of overdose deaths year after year.
Here’s a closer look at why opioids tend to be more addictive than other drugs and how opioid addiction can be treated at a drug rehab center.
How Opioids Affect the Brain
Opioids are typically prescribed to manage pain such as that caused by an injury, surgery, and certain types of cancer treatments. These drugs attach to opioid receptors on cells located in the brain and body, and block pain signals to reduce the sensation of pain. Simultaneously, these drugs also release large amounts of dopamine to produce euphoria, reports the NIDA.
Dopamine is a brain neurotransmitter and “feel-good” chemical associated with reward and pleasure. Dopamine also motivates you to repeat specific behaviors. For example, your body releases dopamine when you exercise, which can motivate you to exercise regularly. Unfortunately, the effects of opioids on dopamine will often motivate you to keep using opioids despite negative consequences.
Over time with repeated use of opioids, your body becomes reliant, or dependent on opioids for dopamine, and can eventually stop producing dopamine naturally on its own. This is often what leads to addiction among people who use opioids, and why these drugs tend to be more habit-forming than others.
Why Do People Start Using Opioids?
The majority of people who eventually become addicted to opioids get prescriptions from their doctors. The CDC reports that, in 2019, there were more than 153 million opioid prescriptions written in the United States, which equates to about 46.7 prescriptions per 100 persons. According to the National Library of Medicine, up to 50% of patients on chronic opioid therapy meet the criteria for opioid addiction.
Opioids are generally only prescribed for a short time to help patients manage pain, but some patients stay on these drugs long enough to develop a physical dependence. In instances where patients cannot get new opioid prescriptions from their doctors, they may visit other doctors to obtain new prescriptions, or head to the streets to buy illicit painkillers or heroin. Illicit opioids are often far deadlier than prescription painkillers because they are unregulated and vary in purity, and they may also contain highly potent synthetic opioids like fentanyl that can trigger an overdose instantly.
How Can Opioid Addiction be Treated?
Opioid addiction is usually treated with a combination of therapies including counseling, and behavioral therapy. The goal with treatment is to help people recover from physical drug dependence and psychological addiction.
If you are concerned about someone who is struggling with opioid addiction, understand that connecting them with professional help at Baystate Recovery Services can greatly reduce their risk for an overdose. Baystate Recovery Services can help your loved one achieve a healthier, more productive lifestyle.